This promotional shot from the upcoming season of Sherlock immediately reminded me of Edward Hopper’s iconic painting Nighthawks (1942). I certainly envision Watson sitting in the English equivalent of a diner late at night, suffering from insomnia brought on by his troubled thoughts. He is a lone man in a large city.
I enjoy the infusion of contemporary indie/ alternative music in the period setting.
I’m currently following the series Reign on the CW channel. It’s pure entertainment, great for winding down to after work. I like that it makes no pretensions about historical accuracy. The costumes reflect this, as they are a blend of elements from different historical eras. Personally, I prefer Reign‘s take to seeing women all trussed-up in stiff Elizabethan clothing (think farthingales, leg-o-mutton sleeves with bombasting, whisks etc.).
I also enjoy seeing the creative licenses taken by the costume designer to create beautiful outfits appropriate for each scene. Costumes play such an integral role in setting the mood. Mary (Queen of Scots) has a wardrobe of gorgeous dresses, and her headpieces are a lovely detail. I appreciate the subtle corsetry and I noticed the high neck with ruffled black organza in one of her dresses, which might be a nod to the Elizabethan ruff. I think the pared-down costumes help make this centuries-old narrative relevant to modern day.
I’d like to introduce two vegan-friendly food brands that I’ve recently discovered. I’m heartened to find that more companies with such philosophies are springing up and making it easier for people to adopt this lifestyle. Preparing vegan foods doesn’t have to involve extensive prep work.
BAO Fermented Food & Drink
BAO uses the process of fermentation to create all-natural products that are free of preservatives and boost digestion (http://www.baofoodanddrink.com/). The only one I’ve tried so far is the Tangy Raw Slaw, a tasty, mildly sweet combination of cabbage, daikon radish, carrots, green onions, apples, pears, garlic, ginger and sea salt (all organic). If you like kimchi or sauerkraut, the raw slaws will really hit that spot. It was really yummy and addictive simply paired with steamed greens. I’m sure it’d taste great in a salad, wrap, sandwich, as a hot dog or burger relish or over rice or quinoa.
I’m excited to try their kombuchas (sweetened fermented teas, often with fruit added) and their condiments and hot sauces. I love adding a kick of hot sauce to anything.
Maya Kaimal Fine Indian Foods
Indian food is one of my favorite cuisines because of its strong, aromatic blend of spices. While for religious reasons there’s a plethora of vegetarian Indian food options, vegan ones are harder to find. Curries or chutneys often contain ghee (clarified butter), paneer (cheese) or yoghurt. Maya Kaimal (http://www.mayakaimal.com) offers a number of vegan pre made curries and sauces that take the hassle out of cooking. Specifically, the Coconut Curry, Vindaloo and Tamarind Curry are vegan. For the sauces, the vegan options are the Madras Curry, Kashmiri Curry and Spicy Ketchup. Everything else is vegetarian.
I simmered the Vindaloo sauce with diced vegetables (carrots, celery, spinach and tomatoes) for a quick, easy, delicious curry. Other possible ingredients are any type of beans eg. chickpeas, mushrooms, eggplant, tofu, squash, potatoes, string beans, peas etc. I served it with Trader Joe’s Gluten-Free Brown Rice Tortillas, which remind me of prata or naan bread. Perfect for mopping up the delicious sauce. Needless to say, the curry would also taste great over freshly-steamed, fluffy rice.
I think mainland China drama serials are lesser-known internationally than Korean ones, which is not surprising given the current popularity of Korean pop culture. I don’t watch many of them myself but 步步惊心/ Scarlet Heart is one of the few that have made it to my list. This drama is a captivating blend of thrilling politics, history, gut-wrenching romance and philosophical questions of fate and destiny.
The protagonist, Zhang Xiao/ Maertai Ruoxi, is a young woman of our generation who is transported about 300 years back in time to the Qing Dynasty (the last imperial dynasty of China) in a freak accident. There she meets the Emperor Kangxi’s sons, including the future Yongzheng. She gets entangled in the battle between the princes for the succession of the throne, unwittingly becoming a player in the shaping of history.
The crux of this story is the central question about the inevitability of history- while Ruoxi is seemingly able to make her own choices, are they simply leading towards a foregone conclusion? Perhaps free will is an illusion, as she is mentally trapped by her prior knowledge of the princes’ fate. In this instance, ignorance truly is bliss. What is tragic is not the princes’ eventual suffering, but knowledge of that fact and the complete inability to prevent it. Ironically, Ruoxi’s attempts to change history are the very wheels that set it in motion. Furthermore, there is the catch of her not knowing her own fate.
The drama also offers a fascinating glimpse of gender roles in ancient China, and this is something Ruoxi struggles with. Her deeply-ingrained modern sensibilities mean that she sees everyone as equal, regardless of gender or class. She finds it hard to accept that men of nobility are allowed to have multiple wives. As a modern-day female, she would demand a mutually-exclusive relationship with the man she loves.
Given her position of aristocracy (she is the daughter of a military general), her fate lies in the emperor’s hands. She is entirely dependent on his favor and Ruoxi detests this sense of helplessness. Women are essentially treated as property, given to whoever the emperor deems appropriate. While watching this I really admired the female characters, who displayed strength in different ways despite being trapped by their situation.
For those used to the Western historical costumes of period dramas like The Tudors, the dress in 步步惊心 might be unfamiliar. The ornate headdresses (for women), fur-lined capes and mantles, ornately-embroidered brocade robes and occasional black fur hats (for men) are distinctly Manchurian attire (the Qing Dynasty was governed by the Manchurians and not the Hans). Hidden beneath women’s robes are elevated wooden heels that look like chopines. Pay attention because symbolism is present in the colors and motifs of the robes, as well as the ornamentation on the headdresses. Costumes are an element that complement the setting and can make a scene particularly memorable. Another drama serial with sumptuous Qing Dynasty costumes is 后宫甄嬛传/ The Legend of Zhen Huan/ Empresses in the Palace.
I’m struck by the similarities between Western period dramas and Chinese ones- namely the politics and intrigue in the court. Women have to possess a strong sense of self-preservation and compete for title and favor. A woman’s value and potential for marriage is dependent on her chastity and virtue. Oddly, women’s legs and feet seem to be regarded as erogenous zones and taboo areas as they are perpetually covered. I’m sincerely grateful to escape a similar plight by being born in this era.
Wong Kar-Wai is one of my favourite filmmakers. Other than his masterpiece In the Mood for Love, I also appreciate Days of Being Wild and Chungking Express. I love how most of his films have a distinct time and place (most are set in Hong Kong), but evoke universal experiences such as urban isolation. While In the Mood for Love has a distinct mood of nostalgia and captures a bygone era, Chungking Express is firmly planted in present-day Hong Kong- a bustling city teeming with people and pulsating with bright lights. The frenetic camerawork and saturated colors give a sense of energy as well as claustrophobia. A common thread between the two films is the existential ennui that pervades them. It is ironic that in overcrowded Hong Kong, though personal space is frequently encroached upon and one never seems to be alone, the sense of alienation is stronger than ever. Perhaps this is emblematic of all modern cities?
As with almost all of Wong’s films, the soundtrack is superb. The most iconic song from the film, for me, is ‘California Dreaming’. This classic, catchy tune promises an escape from her mundane life for one of the characters. California is a mythical land of open roads, beaches, sunshine and freedom; a place that idealistic youth dream of. It is fitting that she eventually becomes a flight attendant, earning a ticket out of Hong Kong and paving her path towards California.
Most people have heard of culture shock, but reverse culture shock is a lesser-known phenomenon. Having studied abroad for a number of years, the question of where my home is becomes increasingly complicated. When I’m in the US I start to miss Singapore, but when I return I almost feel like an outsider. Somewhere along the way, I’ve become a local here and not merely a visitor. Visitors are the hordes of tourists passing through the US every day, only staying long enough to gain superficial impressions of this place. I feel it most keenly when a tour bus passes me as I’m walking along the street- the distinction of me from them. It’s not to say that they’re an unwelcome presence or anything, but there’s a barrier that separates us, fragile as it may be. I’m one of the countless fish swimming in a large bowl, and they’re the others observing us through the glass.
Singapore has changed so much in the years that I’ve been away that I wonder if the Singapore I long for is just a myth of the imagination now. Every time I return I find myself looking at the locals in a way I’ve never done before, watching them go about their daily activities in a slightly detached manner. I read about the news events and developing social issues, and feel odd that I’m not there in person to witness them. I’ve gotten so used to living on my own when I’m abroad that sharing a space with family members is a jolt to my system. I cherish the company, but I miss the privacy and independence.
I’m not sure where I’ll be in future, whether it is the US, Singapore or somewhere new, but I’m starting to view myself as a citizen of the world. I’m not tied to a particular place or culture; instead I love to travel, learn and absorb what works for me. Maybe this is what it means to be a free spirit.
Veggie burger patties are one of my favourite vegan products because of the convenience they offer. Premade and easily reheated in the microwave, they can be used not only for burgers but also in sandwiches and salads. They are not a replacement for real, fresh vegetables and should be eaten sparingly as a processed food, but I find them handy for supplementing meals, packing to the office or as a quick fix. Besides, why pay a hefty price for a veggie burger at a restaurant when you can recreate one at home? These are the brands that I’ve tried and liked (all vegan).
Hilary’s Eat Well
Hilary’s is a great option for vegans sensitive to nuts, soy, corn or gluten. The flavors I’ve tried are the Adzuki Bean and the Root Veggie Burger. Both were yummy, perfectly-seasoned and had great texture. They don’t fall apart easily, making them suitable for packing lunches. The flavors are versatile and easy to air with salads.
The California Veggie Burger is the flavor I tried. It’s a nice go-to veggie patty and is purportedly a healthier choice with lower sodium (though I won’t trust labels too easily- read the ingredient list). It is important to note that, as with all processed foods, veggie patties can contain quite some salt.
I really like the well-balanced taste of Trader Joe’s Veggie Burger but the texture is slightly crumbly and tends to fall apart after heating. I don’t particularly mind but this could be a problem when making sandwiches/ burgers. The Vegetable Masala Burger is a special treat, especially if you like Indian food or are craving something a little spicy.